Maker Of Shadows by Jack Mann (2012, Ramble House)
“#6 Maker of Shadows. The best of Mann’s “Gees” series, most of which are very good indeed. Gees was a private investigator whose cases often involved the supernatural- in this case, pre-Druidic magic and an immortal sorcerer.”
-Karl Edward Wagner, “13 Best Supernatural Horror Novels” (Twilight Zone Magazine, 1983)
Maker of Shadows by Jack Mann (pseudonym of Charles Carnnell). Recently republished by Ramble House ( God Bless Fender Tucker and all who sail with him!), the book is now back in print for the first time since Bookfinger reissued the other “Gees” novels by Mann in the 70’s. I’ve reproduced the cover of the new reissue and one of the magazine serializations from 1939 as well as one of the many Virgil Findlay illustrations from it (thank you, Pretty Sinister Books).
Make of Shadows easily holds it’s place on the list. If nothing else, I would say it might rank a little higher. The novel manages to create a sense of cosmic dread only found in Lovecraft writings. It marries them with the best of the British rural detective yarns. “Gees” is the nickname for gentleman detective Gregory George Gordon Green, who markets himself as a professional problem solver in the classified section of the daily newspapers. Most of the novels in the series involve Gees’ encounters with supernatural forces.
The novel opens with Gees traveling to the Scottish town of Brachmornalachan (try to say it three times without stuttering) to meet with Margaret Aylener. Ms. Aylener is the matriarch of a distinguished Scottish family on the banks of the local loch. She has heard about Gees and his abilities. And in need of his help because just down the road lives Gamel Macmorn, her sworn enemy. Macmorn is descended from foreign invaders, she claims, who settled Scotland in ancient times and enslaved the local populace. The invaders practiced human sacrifice and drew power from the shadows (souls) of their victims. His house,a stately mansion like hers, is situated at the center of a ring of monoliths. Inside his house is the original sacrificial stone use by the ancient kings. No one knows how old Macmorn really is, since he can regenerate himself by the use of evil magic at key times. As Aylener puts it, “He left one day and returned as his son”.
The only thing protecting the Aylener family from Macmorn are four tall rowan trees which surround her house. She also has loyal servants who know of Macmorn’s power. The last of the Ayleners is in the form of her neice Helen, who is engaged. But Macmorn has designs on Helen and her fiancee. He is slowly pulling them into his circle of power. And the time is drawing close to his need to regenerate.
Most of the book follows Gees and his attempt to find a way to stop Macmorn. At one point he directly confronts the genteel Macmorn in front of the latter’s mansion. When Macmorn realizes Gees is working for the other side, he suddenly turns savage and warns him to stay away. When threats don’t work, he attempts to solve the Gees problem by sending hs shadow forces against him.
Maker of Shadows builds to a cresndo as Gees and Helen’s fiance find themselves trapped in the Macmorn house. You’re never quite sure if Gees is going to be able to save the day, which makes for a gripping read. There’s enough obscure celtic mytholgoy employed in the book to send a chill up any spine. It’s easy to see why this book has endured.
And there is plenty of humor as well. The interplay between Gees and his secretary mirror much hardboiled PI fiction. There’s also an interlude where a London streetwalker is used in the battle between Gees and Macmorn to comic effect. It breaks the tension in the book and moves the plot along.
Once again, a big thank you to Ramble House for making this book available to the reading public.